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Drugs in British prisons

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 25 April 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1256

Policies need outside scrutiny if they are to do more good than harm

  1. Sheila M Gore, Senior statistician,
  2. A Graham Bird, Consultant immunologist
  1. MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge CB2 2SR
  2. Department of Immunology, Churchill Hospital, Oxford OX3 7LJ

    The prison service seems to be losing its own “war on drugs.” Blood borne virus transmission1 continues despite improved access to harm reduction measures: another HIV seroconversion in a Scottish jail occurred in 1997. Moreover, the prison service has failed to meet its 1996-7 key performance indicator on drugs,2 which was for the rate of positive results from random mandatory drugs tests to be lower in the fourth quarter than in the first (in the first quarter 3269/13 594 (24.0%) of tests yielded positive results, in the fourth 24.2%). Yet the prisons' key performance indicator on drugs was always misguided, because it avoided real targets,3 such as reducing the use of opiates inside, reducing the prevalence of injecting inside, and increasing the proportion of accommodation given over to drugs free wings. The main problem is that research inside prisons is not done to outside standards and new policies are not evaluated.

    Scotland, and Glasgow in particular, has an injecting culture, including in prisons. At Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow, Scotland's largest prison, 15% of those tested in the …

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